Think horse meat in Tesco burgers is bad, try these… human meat sausages.

Green vegetables made greener with copper, red lead added to Double Gloucester cheese to give it colour, rotten cheese refaced with fresher cheese, flour cut with sand, pepper mixed with ground nut shells.

No these are not more horror stories about Tesco products, they are things people got up to in Victorian times (check out Bee Wilson’s book Swindled: the Dark History of Food Fraud).

And before the Victorian’s the Romans used lead to make rancid wine more drinkable. In China, soy sauce could once be made from human hair. And for centuries vinegar has been used to cover the smell of rotten chicken, until Southern fried chicken came along!

And then there are the many cases of human’s being killed and sold as sausages. The Edinburgh Dungeon sells ‘Sawney Bean’s Finger Bites’, a sausage inspired by the taste of human flesh (they are actually made from pork and rhubarb).  The Dungeon’s project director Emma Thompson said, “It is as close as you can get to knowing what human flesh tastes like without actually eating somebody”. (Sawney Bean is a historic character who ate human flesh.)

The recent horse burger scandal proves one thing – you get what you pay for and if you want to pay £1 for 8 burgers, what did you expect? Maybe less surprising coming form Lidl, Iceland and Aldi but Tesco?

The media have had a field day bashing Tesco, which further adds to the growing mistrust of big brands that seem to be more interested in their shareholders profits than their customers health.

If you want to get your brand’s ethical image right then remember, it’s not what you say but what you do. Cheat, lie and abuse people or animals and the media will do all the saying for you.

The moral issue that has been highlighted is that most of the time we actually don’t know what we are eating, and that’s just the official ingredients. The supply chain goes through many places, so it is no surprise people are tempted to cut corners and throw things in that they hope won’t be noticed.

A quality beefburger may only contain 80% beef, but it can easily be 62% for normal burgers and as little as 42% under EU regulations. McDonald’s and Burger King claim 100% beef.

To bulk out the mixture, the rest can legally be fat, water, protein powder, mechanically recovered meat – a pink slurry produced by grinding every last remnant from the animal’s carcass under high pressure known as ‘Pink Slime’. Technically speaking, some of this really isn’t as bad as it sounds but the real issue is do you really know what you are eating? I can hardly imaging a packet of Tesco burgers claiming ‘Now with added pink slime’.

When the tests found the horse DNA in a random search, along with pig DNA, it is most likely to have been in protein powder used as a filler.

So why are we all so fussy about horse meat when so many other countries eat it? Well the English banned it decades ago, for numerous reasons, one was that in the 16th century Pope Gregory III began a concerted effort to stop the ritual consumption of horse meat in pagan practice.

Horse meat is not dangerous to eat, but horses not farmed for the table don’t have the same controls over what chemicals they are given. It’s not illegal to sell horse meat in the UK, a number of top restaurants serve horse meat from farms in the Languedoc region of France where they breed horses from rare breeds especially for eating. Shockingly, over British 10,000 horses are sent annually to Europe for consumption, particularly to France.

Silky Shark, an American racehorse, was given drugs (like Phenylbutazone, a carcinogen for humans) you wouldn’t want in your feed. Towards the end of its career it was bought by what is know as a ‘Kill Buyer’ who takes horses to slaughterhouses in Mexico. 70% of that horse meat goes to Europe – Belgum, France Italy being the biggest users. Most ends up in processed meats.

Another question that has been raised is, when Ireland is one of the biggest exporters of beef, why they are buying meet in from European sources? The reason is simple, because supermarkets are driving hard bargains and want food cheap but don’t want to sacrifice margin. The same is true of the food processors.

Supermarkets defend their position by claiming shoppers want lower and lower prices, well this isn’t true, most of them have done very well with their premium ranges, and organic meats sales are up. The horse burger scandal has been great publicity for the organic meat trade (the same can’t be said for those limp posters on the tube).

The Tesco brand has taken another pounding in the press, even though they were just one of several retailers (guess they need to work harder on their relationship with the press). Personally, my own experience with Tesco and food scares (read my blog on poisonous wild mushrooms) was less than satisfactory about how seriously they take consumers health and left me very untrusting of the brand. I’ll certainly never buy wild mushrooms from them again (and I advise you not to either).

Newspapers were quick to suggest that 1/3 of their Value Beef Burger was horse (technically this is not accurate) leaving the question, as one comedian put it, “Now we just need to know what is in the other 2/3.”

All my left wing vegan and vegetarian friends are licking their lips with delight as this gives them all the ammunition they need to preach the bible of vegetarianism. Paul McCartney, Britain’s most famous vegetarian, commenting on the BBC said he saw it coming. He blames the suppliers and commenting on the processers, “ They probably think, let’s throw in a bit of that, no one will notice”.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has come under attack as well, and was suppose to be the independent of the industry and a consumer champion. Ironically, Tim Smith, Tesco’s Technical Director (formerly with Arla) was head of the Foods Standards Agency until 2 years ago.

The FSA website ( ) is not a place you want to go before a meal, it’s packed full of unsavoury tales and horror stories. Take ‘Food Fraud’ – food is deliberately placed on the market, for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the consumer’.  The greed of money makes people do bad things.

While the focus is on Tesco and horse burgers, you probably missed these from the FSA – ‘Sainsbury’s is recalling its own-brand Lemon Thyme because of salmonella’. ‘Budgens, Londis and SuperValu have recalled some of their SuperValu Salted Peanuts, because one batch of the product has been found to contain aflatoxins at levels higher than the regulatory limits.’ (Aflatoxins are toxic and among the most carcinogenic substances known.)

And avoid buying Koon Yick Wah Kee rose bean curd tofu… you don’t want to know why!

Asda, the Co-operative and WM Morrison had to withdrawn certain batches of mild cheddar and red Leicester cheese because small pieces of metal were found in the products.

And even the posh stories have problems, ‘Harrods has recalled some packs of its own-brand Date and Tea Fruit Cake as some products have developed signs of mould’.

The ethics of food and packaging has been high up the agenda for a long while, and even though press coverage of incidents like this (and the press have made a meal of it – excuse the pun) it actually distracts from the bigger issues that they are less interested in reporting – like globally we throw away between 30% and 50% of the food we buy from supermarkets. Looking at farming, 75% of the vegetables grown in Britain are never even eaten. Waste from rotten vegetables and the offcuts (like carrot tops) produce as much methane as cows. Rice is actually the biggest methane producer globally.

Tesco may not be laughing, this comes at a time when things haven’t been looking good for them, but at least one good thing that has come out of it are lots of bad jokes.

“A woman has been taken to hospital after eating horseburgers. Her condition is said to be stable.”

“Have you tried those new mini-burger snacks, Tesco horse d’oeuvres.”



  • Kay McMahon

    Interesting article – and another reason I’m glad to be a long term boycotter of Tesco, but could someone please proof-read the writing before it’s published? So many spelling mistakes makes this difficult to swallow (don’t excuse the pun).

  • paul c-c

    And you should try the Tesco meatballs. They’re the dogs bo……ks

  • Yeshim

    I bought sausages yesterday and went to cook it today. Tesco brand expire date till 25th august. But it’s almost like there’s no meat in it. It’s not edible and extremely soft after cooked. Have bought beef sausages tesco brand before and other brands and this is just strange. I’m pregnant so didn’t even attempt it after cooking.